The values that formed our country, society, cities, and neighborhoods are certainly changing, and not for the good. Some would say we are under an attack and it would seem it is so. As things continue to progressively get worse, life as we once knew it will continue to change. Some want to go back to Mayberry. I have a feeling things will continue to change to the point that these times may look neutral and inviting compared to what will be.
In all of this, there has been so much talk about Christians and the church being persecuted. Like rubber-neckers on the interstate, many people turn on the news every morning to find out what else they should be outraged about. The agenda to push homosexual marriage down America's throat seems to be getting stronger and stronger, and the sad thing is that it isn't a grassroots thing. It's a political power thing which seeks to push an agenda down the throat of a majority that doesn't want it. Polls prove it. Nevertheless, it's happening in front of us. As the church wrestles with these changes and attempts to remain relevant in today's society and accomplish the mission of Christ, it goes without saying that there has been some heightened levels of discomfort. Many go as far as saying that we are being persecuted and tried for our faith.
I want to say this at the risk of being taken to task, misunderstood, and harshly judged. Today's American church doesn't know what persecution is. It's almost laughable to the rest of the world and surely to the early church when we talk about how persecuted we are. Let me give you an example from scripture:
Hebrews 11:35-39 New Living Translation (NLT)
35 Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,[a] and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.
Christians in Rome during the early church period were used as bait for hungry lions in the middle of the Coliseum. That historic phenomenon is the final resting place for thousands upon thousands of Christians who were literally ripped to shreds either by hungry lions or by having ropes tied around their appendages and stretched out to as many as 4 to 6 horses who would all run in separate directions ripping the Christian to pieces. And while this was happening, the Christian's family would be made to watch. The stands would be filled with spectators cheering on this blood sport of persecution. All the Christians had to do was denounce Christ to live, and yet they chose to die.
The Apostle John had a disciple by the name of Polycarp who was burnt alive at a stake in the middle of the town he pastored in simply because he wouldn't burn incense to the Roman emperor. In many Communist and Radical Islamist countries of the past and today, authorities routinely search for underground churches so they can kill the church goers, rape the women, and carry off the children into sex trafficking. Some people have literally never owned a Bible because it is illegal. Instead, an underground church may get one Bible collectively and share it. I once read where one church ripped handfuls of pages from the Bible and gave it to its parishioners so each individual could at least have some of the Bible in their possession. That is persecution.
I know that you can always find someone that has it worse than you and doing so doesn't negate the fact that your situation is bad. However, I do think we have to be careful talking about how persecuted we are. Without a doubt the enemy is fighting and no doubt there are some levels of persecution taking place in the American church right now, but I wonder if some, if not a lot, of what we call persecution is actually feelings of discomfort and aggravation because the routine and niche we carved out for ourselves in this world we're only supposed to be passing through has been upset.
Let's be honest. Christianity today in America looks almost nothing like the Christianity of the church of Acts and I'm not talking about denominational lines and gifts of the Spirit and so forth. I'm talking about the zeal and desire to see the lost saved. I'm talking about the desire to care for the broken and the hurting. I'm talking about the desire to link arms with fellow Christians to make Jesus famous and accomplish His mission. No, Christianity became a culture for America. If you were an American who worked hard, paid your bills, raised your kids, didn't really get into too much trouble, enjoyed good country and sometimes rock and roll music, and went to church sometimes, you were a Christian. It was a culture. It's so much a culture that other countries think of us as a Christian nation. Our enemies surely do.
What has begun to take place is the death of our Christianity culture in America and in some ways, I'm not so sure that it's a bad thing. Don't get me wrong, I'm crushed that my little girl won't grow up in the same America I did. I'm not saying I want things to change. I'm not saying they need to change. I'm just as ticked about all the things going on as you are. What I am saying though is that the American church for years and years now has pretty much been non-existent. We've relied on good people to come to church. We ran out of things to preach on because society condemned so much on its own that we started preaching about one another. We became ineffective, stagnate, comfortable, pompous, and cultured. We carved out our own little place in Americana and in the process forsook the citizenship of the Kingdom we joined when we confessed our sins. Yes, we as Christians have become way too comfortable in this world. We lose faith with God when we have to cut our budgets a little bit while some families in other countries usually live on the amount of the small cuts we made for a month. We leave churches when people don't shake our hands, the music isn't quite right, the preacher doesn't preach like we like, another church is offering this or that. And we'll have 30 to choose from. Other people go to church maybe once every two weeks and when they do, they do so at the risk of their lives and their family's lives. We've become powerless in many ways. We can talk the talk, but the walk is missing. And it's not the "church" that's really the problem. The "church" is made up of people. You and me . . . we're the problem.
I don't ever want to have to experience that, though I'm afraid before Christ comes back we may. I'm not saying we have to experience that. What I am saying is that this "persecution" actually needs to be identified more so as an alarm and a wake up to Christians that this world is not our home. The church wasn't made for us to live in so we could hide our heads in the sand and pray change doesn't come to Grassroots USA. We were made to be recognized, not by our big buildings, but by our big hearts. Not by our big bank accounts, but by our big expressions of Christ's love and ministry. Not by our big lots of land, but by our big dreams of loosing the Kingdom on earth as its loosed in heaven.
I'm not saying we can't enjoy this world or life. I love life! I love seeing this world. I love traveling. There's nothing better to do for me than to hit the open road with my destination 15+ hours away and see what I see on the way there. It's amazing! God's creation is amazing! I love our country's history. I'm a Patriot through and through. But I know this world isn't my home. There's nothing wrong with making ourselves comfortable in the places God has put us with our families and possessions so to speak. It becomes wrong when our comfort level begins to have a negative effect on our spiritual level in terms of obeying God, imitating Christ, and following the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Persecution is real. We're experiencing some level of it for sure. It will get worse according to scripture. Knowing that should cause you and I to spend a little less time bemoaning how bad we're being persecuted and to appreciate the freedoms we still have and use them for the glory of God. Instead of just talking about how much we hate what's happening, let's take advantage of the opportunities we have been given. Certainly, let us fight back against the tide. Let us recognize the change and work to transform culture from whence change comes in the first place. Let's recognize those being persecuted with family and blood outside of America. Let's thank God for how good we still have it. Let's be thankful that our persecution in America is having a court tell us gay couples can have the same legal benefits as heterosexual couples. I assure you, the church in other parts of the world would love to live and serve in that level of persecution.
I close with this, persecution is real and it is happening. The American church isn't experiencing it like the rest of the world and certainly isn't experiencing it like the early church did. That doesn't change the fact that it is happening. We must be wise and be as the sons of Issachar who could discern the times and seasons. We must recognize that time is running out. The empires we build here on earth won't last the wrath of God. The treasures we lay up in heaven will last forever. May we be about the Father's business more so than ever before. May we recognize the times we live in and get over our foolish theological and doctrinal debates which have many times paralyzed the church from serving and ministering. May we hold fast to the time honored and proven truths of God's Word and may we be the hands and feet of Christ, the body of Christ, to the world in which we live, now, tomorrow, and come what may.